Mid-winter dream of Haiti

Yesterday was #BlueMonday, a day that draws attention to the low mood many feel in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Though the origins of Blue Monday are attributed to a marketing initiative of a travel company, there is a reason it resonates with us.  Winter is long here.  This year it seems extra long because it started early with a wicked wind storm back on November 2-3, eleven weeks ago.   And we’ll likely still be feeling winter’s affect for at least that many weeks ahead of us no matter what happens with the groundhog on February 2.

January 21, 2019 and winter has taken over our yard.

Living in Canada for the past 50 years, I’ve had my fair share of winter.  I’ve done the things people say to do to get through it, sliding skating, snowshoeing, skiing and even dog sledding (that adventure deserves it’s own post at a future date).

Truthfully that’s the only thing that has worked for me is a winter getaway to somewhere south. On the years I have been able to do this, winter passes by just a little bit easier.  Last year, my husband and I took a 5-night cruise and soaked up the warmth in the Caribbean.

Here’s where the contradiction that is me comes out. Although I want the warmth, I’m not a beach sitter, and I prefer to learn about a place I visit.

Perhaps that’s why in the depth of this winter, I keep looking at the images of one of our favourite stops on last year’s cruise, Royal Caribbean’s private resort in Labadee, Haiti.

Royal Caribbean’s resort at Labadee Haiti and Independence of the Seas docked at the Port (March 2018)

The water was aquamarine and the beach was lovely but the best part of our journey, and probably our favourite part of the cruise, was a shore excursion to the actual village of Labadee, a short water taxi ride from the resort.

When Royal Caribbean came to this area of Haiti and leased the now resort area long-term from the government, it took vacant land of a former plantation and transformed it over a period of time into an adventure beach destination for adults and children.

After a cursory look at the beach and all the people hanging out there, we were swept away by Royal Caribbean destination tour staff to the location of our water transport to the village.

We were curious about learning more about Haiti, which is why the shore excursion appealed to us.  My husband had spent March break the prior year in Dominican Republic, the other country that shares the island of Hispaniola.  He’s a high school teacher and was volunteering his time to work with students to build two community centres for remote villages.  When he was there, he saw life challenges of the people of both Dominican Republic and Haiti.

dscn2731After our short water taxi ride, at the pier in Labadee village, our guide Antonio greeted us warmly and told us the story of Haiti depicted through artwork on the pillars of the small pier, then we learned how the houses in the village are built by neighbours helping neighbours, first by making the bricks in an eighteenth-century earth oven and then by lending a hand to each other to construct homes.

The actual village of Labadee is nestled safely in a cove at the base of a mountain range, with houses built on the low land and up the sides of the surrounding hills.  The village, accessible only by water, is sheltered from many of the challenges that plague other parts of Haiti.

Here in Labadee village, we learned from Antonio the various plant remedies traditionally used as part of ritual to treat symptoms of epilepsy, diabetes, hypertension and even the common cold.  We were also given a demonstration of a voodoo ceremony, and later shown how a rudimentary rum is made from sugar cane.

Voodoo ritual demonstration

Antonio also shared with us the positive changes the village has experienced from its relationship with Royal Caribbean.  Not only are there employment opportunities at the private resort, but also he explained how Royal Caribbean helps families from the village who have students wishing to go to high school in Cap-Haitien. The village school goes only to grade 9, and the high school is a water taxi, and a ferry ride away.

New hotel development in Labadee village (March 2018)

The opportunity to learn about the culture of Haiti touched us and we still fondly speak of Antonio and the experience of our tour in Labadee.  While we were there he pointed to a new hotel construction on the other side of the small harbour, an investment from outside Haiti but one that points toward opportunity for the village.  Finally, he shared that the village is continuously improving and they have been working with Royal Caribbean to give more access to the village for passengers.  While this is a work in progress, they are hopeful.

I look forward to future visits to Labadee to see how they progress with their goals.

50 Rules Life Playlist: 50 years, 150+ songs

Happy New Year!

Thoughts of celebrating the start of a new year with friends and family spurred me to create a Spotify list of 50 songs which defined my first half-century.

Keeping it to 50 was impossible, so it’s 158 now, and it may grow as I think of more songs.

As a child, music always played in my home. Mom would sing me songs from musicals like My Fair Lady and Sound of Music along with Scottish folk songs, and we did house work to bagpipe band LPs. We had plenty of Motown sounds and bubble gum music from her youth and younger adult years.

Dad would play Elvis. Mom loved John Denver, Roger Whittaker, and Kenny Rogers.

They both loved the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel.

Towards the mid-1970s and later, CCR, the Eagles, ABBA and Billy Joel became part of the household sound.

There was that weird time time in 1979 when my Dad bought me Amii Stewart’s Knock on Wood album.  I had never heard of her but this was disco entering our house, and that album cover was a bit risqué for 9-year old me.

As I grew and became an adult, I continued to love and collect music of many genres.  I’ve had music in formats from 33 1/3, 45s, LP, 8-track, cassette, CD, MP3, and now via streaming services on iTunes and Spotify.

50 Rules Life - 2The 50 Rules Life Playlist is by no means comprehensive, but each song evokes a memory or period of my life stretching from my earliest childhood memories (Scottish folk songs and Broadway show tunes), to classic hits spanning the 1950s to the 2010s and up to and including a few of my 2018 favourites.

I hope you enjoy the playlist, it’s on Spotify and as of today it will take just 10 hours to listen to every song.

If you can make it through the whole thing, let me know what you think. 🙂

Link to the playlist: 50 Rules Life Playlist

A letter from Santa, 1977

On Christmas Eve 1977,  when I had many, many nine-year old questions, my parents encouraged me to write a letter to Santa to ask him these questions. We put the letter I wrote out with the Christmas cookies, milk and reindeer snacks.

I went to bed and in the morning, to my extreme wonder, a letter had arrived from Santa during the night!

The envelope and my address on it. The return address was the North Pole, and the post mark said “North Pole 1 AM Special” in real ink.  I was a-m-a-z-e-d.

The letter inside had handwriting that looked nothing like either Mom’s or Dad’s.  It read:

North Pole, 1977

Dear Paula, 

Thank you for the pictures, and the drink.  Mrs. Claus likes it too.  You ask if my reindeer fly, and if I am real.

When you believe in something in your heart, anything is real.  Yes, Paula, reindeer fly, and I am real!   Does the wind blow the leaves on the tree? Does spring grass smell?

I am the spirit of Xmas.  I am as real as you want me to be. I am as real as your best friend, as real as your mother and father’s love for you.  I am the spirit of love for all mankind, Paula.   Yes, Paula, I am real. Because you believe, I am real.

Merry Christmas Paula.





Cinnamon Roll Cheesecake

Typically, I’m not much of a baker.  As you may have guessed from previous posts, I enjoy making meals.  However, at Christmas I will make an exception and bake.

Last year, I went looking for something new. A special dessert to go with Christmas dinner.  This recipe I found for Cinnamon Roll Cheesecake sounded completely decadent and it definitely was.

As often happens at Christmas, I had no room in my fridge to store it after it was prepared.  Since it was cold outside, I improvised and used Mother Nature as my overflow fridge.

I placed the cheesecake on top of our BBQ in its glass serving dish with cloche.  I was thinking, how perfect, it will stay cold until just the time that I need it.  Snow was falling and it was looking festive in its makeshift fridge.  I even took a photo and posted it on social at the time.

Later when we were going to have dessert, I brought it in to cut, but it was frozen solid.  We let it sit on the table while we all retired to the living room for a few after dinner beverages.

A few hours later I went check it. It had indeed thawed, along with some snow that came in with the dish. The snow carried bits of cheesecake which had also melted and together they formed a slightly creamy cinnamon puddle which had been slowly drip, dripping down off the table and onto one of the beige cloth-seated chairs.

This cheesecake is remembered not only for its deliciousness but also for a little silly absent-mindedness of mine.  And we still have a mark on that chair to remind us.

The cheesecake has already been requested for this Christmas, luckily we bought a larger fridge this year.

Maybe everything will fit in this time.

The giving season

When December hits, unless you are the type to have everything done and wrapped by now, your mind likely turns to presents and giving, which leads to shopping and buying.

A few years ago I began to tire of the race to December 24. I wanted to enjoy Christmas as much as I did when I was younger, but it just kept loosing its glimmer for me.

Sure, I loved to see my family joyously opening gifts on Christmas morning, and I particularly enjoyed the quiet time when the whole world slows down from December 24 to the New Year, but, for me, the weeks leading up to the big event did not hold the same anticipation as they once did.

Then, one year I realized that the season for me was no longer about the buying and commercialization. The accumulation of stuff that one-year, two-years, or three-years later might end up in a purge pile to go out of the house.

For me, what most stimulated that Christmas feeling were the traditions and rituals around me that helped people in need during the holidays.

Whether working on the Harbour Lights Campaign raising funds for food banks from St. Stephen to Sussex, or helping put together Christmas baskets for those in need along with my co-workers, these were the things that brought Christmas alive with meaning.

Over these next few weeks I will enjoy watching the spirit of giving that surrounds our community grow and as it does so will the joy of the season grown in me.

On going grey

A few years ago I tried of colouring my hair. I’d been colouring since my late teens, more for style than to cover grey hair. 

When I first made the big decision to go natural, I was 47, and I bravely let it grow out so none of my colour was artificial,

But I  was just not ready for the look yet.  The grey then was not as spread out as I had hoped and looked like sparse patches here and there.

Three years later, when 50 was approaching I decided to give it a try again.  This time the grey was more plentiful so I was more comfortable. 

I doubt I’ll go back to colour again.  I love being free of the chemicals and the time and cost commitment of colouring. 

A friend shared this trailer for an upcoming documentary about growing out your grey.  It’s worth a watch, I identify with the sentiments shared.

You can find the Facebook page for the upcoming documentary at this link: Gray is The New Blonde

Understanding and challenging bias

I recently was fortunate enough to have the experience of completing an eighteen-month program in corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

The full program covered a vast array of CSR topics, but one subject that I reflected on a great deal is diversity and inclusion.  The theme came up in a variety of ways as we explored or were exposed to theoretical frameworks, best practice cases, and both literature and personal testimony.

A key takeaway for me came in learning how, even though we may not realize it, we as individuals carry our own biases about age, skin colour, nationality, ethnicity, cultural and religions origins and traditions, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political affiliation and many other dimensions of diversity.

Even the most enlightened individuals carry these biases.  Unknowingly in many cases, and perhaps because it is what is most comfortable, we often seek to align ourselves with people who think like us and look like us.

Part of an exercise we took part in during our course was to do a few of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests (bias tests) and reflect on our findings.  An important part of overcoming bias is to accept that it exists.  The next most important thing to do is to work on mitigating these biases by exposing yourself to experiences that challenge them .  In doing so you become more aware and familiar of your own biases, and more accepting of differences in people.

If you’re ready for the challenge, I encourage everyone to check out the resources available for businesses at Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion(CCDI).  CCDI is an international leader in developing and delivering diversity and inclusions programs and resources.

In Canada, I also encourage individuals and businesses to check the resources at Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and particularly their Progressive Aboriginal Relations program.

Together we can all do our part to ensure all humans have the same rights and freedoms.